The Onyx Crown Introduces African Fantasy to Readers
Around the same time Tracey Shearer and Jason Kilgore contacted me to review their incredible books, I received an email from Alan Hurst who just published his debut novel, The Onyx Crown. His description “I like to think of it as a cross between Black Panther and Game of Thrones” intrigued me as I’m a fan of both. After reading it, I couldn’t agree more with his description. It fits it perfectly. I would even say it’s a little reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings as J.R.R. Tolkien was an influence for Mr. Hurst.
What is The Onyx Crown About?
The Onyx Crown follows three main characters: Jorann, Gesemni, and Sania (who is my favorite character, by the way); two young men and a young woman, respectively, around twelve-years-old whose lives drastically change. They go from being poor, slaves, and unable to truly live their lives to something much bigger. Something they never imagined. Leaders, warriors, and, eventually, protectors. They are known as the khuselas, which translated means protectors. How did anyone know they were khuselas? By a marking on their wrists; the mark of the onyx crown.
As the story goes, there was a great leader, Lord Toloron. He ruled over all of the provinces in Africa. He was a beloved ruler, but was betrayed by his officer, Regent Okon. Okon killed him because he wanted the “rightful” heir to rule over the kingdom, Azzolari Azu. Azzolari's the son of Azoni Azu, a despot Lord Toloron defeated in order to become ruler over the kingdom. However, there’s something no one knows about except a select few…Lord Toloron’s son is alive and his supporters will make sure he becomes ruler before Azzolari Azu does. The khuselas – with their special abilities – will help find the rightful heir and restore the kingdom…without some adventure and learning along the way, of course.
Minor Characters Used to Move The Story Along
Like Tracey Shearer’s Entwine and E. A. Fournier’s Still Breathing, there were a plethora of “minor characters” placed throughout that really helped move the main characters and the story along. Some of these characters were Pala K’Nan, Mistress Jayda, and Darious.
Pala K’Nan was a warrior, a former comrade to Lord Toloron, and the one who saves Jorann from the Win-Daji, a clan of hunters. Jorann was a slave to one of the families. They constantly tortured him. When Pala K’Nan notices the mark on Jorann’s wrist, he realizes he finally found one of the khuselas and saves him by destroying the whole Win-Daji clan. From there he trains Jorann and teaches him about his true past. That is until one training goes bad and Jorann's rescued by another tribe.
Mistress Jayda runs a Dukka-Vinyo, which translated means winery; however, let’s just say it’s not your typical winery. She raises kids to be servants, entertainers, and…well, I think you can figure out what else. However, there is one child, Sania, who is a little mischievous. Through Mistress Jayda, though, we learn Sania’s true story and the fact that Mistress Jayda has been protecting Sania this entire time.
Side Note: I LOVE Sania!
By the way, I mentioned earlier that Sania is my favorite character in this entire story. That is because she is a true badass. She epitomizes the word badass! I mean this girl has got some balls on her. She took on three men all by herself after calling them “jackasses”. And she’s hysterical! The stuff she says, the thoughts she has, and the jabs she makes are great.
For example, when she leaves the Dukka-Vinyo to fulfill her destiny, she leaves the savannah to cross the Great River. After doing so, she goes to a tavern where, unbeknownst to her, a fellow khusela, Gesi is being attacked. She walks into the tavern and says, “I’ve only got one question for all of you…Why does it take so many heroes to beat up an ugly little kid with a cheap black sword and a scrawny beast for a pet? Surely the First Prince can do better?”
Seriously, most of the lines this girl says has me dying with laughter.
Lastly, there’s Darious who is the adopted father of Gesemni. Out of the three khuselas, I feel Gesi’s had “the best” life for a couple of reasons. He might’ve been in “poverty”, but he was friends with the First Prince of East Rhydor’s son and daughter, Zadeemo and Zoe. (It helped that Darious was the First Prince’s avaremba, or falcon breeder and trainer.) Also, Darious took great care of Gesemni and protected him to the end.
I mean this is only three of the plethora of “minor characters” in The Onyx Crown that truly help the main characters and story move along. This is one of the many reasons why I really liked this novel from Mr. Hurst. I also liked how each character, whether major or minor, hid something. Like there was more to them than what you see. That, to me, was fascinating. As I read the story, I learned something new about each character and it made me wonder, “What else are they hiding?”
Another reason I like this story is because as Hurst uses an African word, he puts the translation right next to it, so you know what he’s talking about. Khuselas, Win-Daji, and Dukka-Vinyo are all great examples. Some others are…
En-yawo (a unit of measurement)
And the list goes on.
Hurst's Use of Description is Powerful
Hurst also gave great description throughout his book. Whether he was describing a scenery, a battle, or a person, it truly felt like I was there seeing it. Even when Pala K’Nan was giving a “history lesson” to Jorann during a training session, I honestly felt like I was sitting at a camp fire or on a floor in a living room being told stories of “the good ol' days”. Some great examples are…
“‘Engage!’ The First Knight’s voice rang out through the square as the boys stepped into the circle. Zadeemo immediately lowered his stance, thrusting the heel of his boot inside Gesi’s left calf to disrupt his balance, simultaneously snatching at the bladed spear handle. Shuggle-stepping to counter, Gesi twisted the blade ninety degrees, forcing Zadeemo to withdraw his hands.”
“The insignia on their cloaks represented a tribe unfamiliar to any of them, a three-headed jackal, all three of which were impaled by a crooked spear. Even stranger than their uniforms were their faces, which were identical and identically hideous. Triplets, they were indeed, but each one of their faces was twisted in a completely different way from the other two. One of them seemed frozen in a perpetually leering smile; the other stuck in a hideous snarl. The third’s facial expression was tough to fathom at first glance, initially seeming to exist in some realm between the visages worn by his two brothers, but upon closer inspection, it seemed to be an expression of profound sadness. He looked ready to burst into tears any second.”
“This person’s skin was darker than the complexion of most – even in this area north of the savannah. More so than his skin, his visage and aura appeared dark, accentuated by jet-ebony eyes. He was attired in a ragged hooded black tunic, the hood partially obscuring his braided locks, which one could tell were perhaps a bit too long. Huge black gloves, obviously meant for an adult, grasped a silver chain-linked belt, to which was attached a long black scabbard, the handle covered by a silken-black cloth. Whatever the weapon was, it looked comical attached to his belt. It was much too large for his slight build to wield effectively.”
This novel has a mixture of drama, action, humor, and magic. As you read it, each chapter ends with you wanting more, including the very last chapter. Since this is Book One of a trilogy, Hurst ends the book in such a way that you have to pick up Book Two. It’s brilliant! First, he ends the story with you, the reader, wondering what’s going to happen with the main characters. Second, he ends it with this line “Still, he knew the direction he needed to travel in, the direction that would take him to his father’s domain, towards the tribal provinces of Ikiye, Goza, and Elesaa, towards revenge.”
After reading that line, I held the book in my hand and yelled, “What?! How could you do that Alan?!” realizing it was a fantastic idea. I can’t wait for Book Two!
In conclusion, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy; especially if you’re a fan of Games of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. At first, you might not be able to tell it’s a fantasy story, but you do realize it as you read more and more. Hurst does a great job of telling this story and slowly building it up as he stretches it across three books. Again, I can’t wait for Book Two. To learn more about Alan Hurst, his debut novel The Onyx Crown and when his next book(s) will be released, make sure to check out his website.
Policies & Disclosure
Please remember I am not getting paid to write this review. I am just a fan and fellow author helping out another great author. To learn more, please check out my Policy page. Also, I would love to hear what you think of this review and of the book, if you’ve read it. You can either comment below (please read my “Comments Policy” on the Policy page before doing so) or contact me.
The photos featured in this post are my photos. The first is my copy of The Onyx Crown by Alan Hurst. The second is my “signature photo”, me with my copy of this incredible African fantasy.
**This post was originally published on May 18, 2020**